Anyone else feeling a little lackluster lately?
Like December squeezed every bit of energy out of you?
Like you just woke up from a coma and you don’t know what day it is, when you last showered, or what it is you should be doing?
Ugh. I feel it.
The start of December is filled with so many promises, all these events and things leading up to the perfect holiday season. And while it’s fun, it’s a whirlwind. It’s exhausting, draining, and leaving me craving hibernation.
Today was my first full day without an agenda in months. And tonight I was finally able to take out my paints, find my happy place and let it all pour out.
The guilt of not being enough this season.
The expectations laid on me by others.
The inadequacy I feel as I’m unable to complete it all.
All of the anxiety and exhaustion poured out. And all of the hope and grace poured in. This painting is called “Light My Soul”.
And while I still need a good long snooze, I feel renewed. I feel hopeful and excited, I feel that spark once again.
Amazing what happens when you go home to your Creator.
Let’s light up 2020!
Be the best pieces of those who went before you.
My Grandpa Ray adored farm magazines. The ones with the photos of baby calves and rolling landscapes, filled with the stories and awful knee-slapper jokes of farmers just like him. He was humble and kind, yet stern and outspoken when it was something he was passionate about. He believed in humanity and keeping perspective on life. We could sit for hours at his kitchen table with a pot of coffee solving all the world’s problems, one conversation at a time.
My Grandma Annie was a maker and an avid cloud-watcher. She was perfect example of a survivor of the Great Depression. She could scrap together something amazing out of nothing. Cookies that tasted entirely different each time because they were always a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Entire queen size quilts made from scraps of worn out clothing that others wouldn’t think twice about throwing out. Her resourcefulness was always awe inspiring to me.
My sister Angie loved people. She had this uncanny ability to make an authentic connections with complete strangers. She listened with warmth and grace and spoke with a wittiness that left you speechless. Her genuine conversation and huge heart never ceased to amaze me.
And as I sit here in this space, grieving these three people and others that meant so much to me, I know I cannot dwell in the space of deep grief. That space is not where I will choose to live. Instead, I must move forward, carrying their memory with me, continuing their legacy and do my part to become the best pieces of those who have gone before me.
It doesn't matter if your house is spotless.
It doesn't matter if you are a top earner at your workplace.
It doesn't matter what your title is.
It doesn't matter how many hours you volunteer.
It doesn't matter if you are the ideal weight.
It doesn't matter how much money you stick in the offering plate.
It doesn't matter what brands you wear.
It doesn't matter what car you drive.
It doesn't matter many tattoos you have.
It doesn't matter what school you graduated from.
It doesn't matter what game you won.
Your worth is not tied up in any of that. None of that matters.
The way you smile back at people, that matters.
The way you send a silent prayer up when you stumble across those in need, that matters.
The way you show grace when someone slips up, that matters.
The way you stop drama instead of spreading it further, that matters.
The way you are willing to extend a hand even when you feel overextended yourself, that matters.
The way you hold a safe space for those around you, that matters.
The way you allow others to lean into you when they are struggling, that matters.
The way you fill others up with encouragement, that matters.
Quit giving weight to the things that do not matter. Start seeing your worth in the value you are adding to others' lives.
The news of another’s loss, prompts the grief all over again, ripping open the wound. Remembering what the deep trenches of grief feel like, my heart aches for those living in that space right now.
The constant fight between being in the present and wanting to dive into the past to soak it all in and remember every detail. So many emotions flood through your mind. Bouncing back and forth between thankfulness, sadness, regret, anxiety, and love like a pinball machine. Grateful for those who are reaching out yet overwhelmed with the responses and duties that must get done.
The arrangements to be made.
The people to notify.
The acknowledgements to those who took the effort to assist or show up.
The incomprehensible energy it takes to bear your face to the world.
The gifts and food and flowers that fill the kitchen, ride the fine line between a blessing and a burden. Thankful for not having to shop or prepare meals yet overwhelmed with the vast amount and what to do with it all.
So stunned by what has occurred and equally shocked by the outpouring of support, that you become immobile. Burying as much down deep as you can and still unable to contain it all as it seeps through your eyes every hour of the day without warning.
The deep trenches of grief are not confined to the week of the death. You don’t just crawl out the day after the burial, or the day you go back to work. You dwell in this space for weeks, sometimes months, occasionally seeing the light of day through others. Carefully navigating the trenches, you learn to avoid the sinkholes that suck you way under to the dark space. Gradually finding your footing, you slowly climb out of the trenches using others who have been down this road as stepping stones to help you find your way out. You constantly ride the balance between participating in real life and finding a dark corner to sink into, to be alone.
Slowly the trenches of grief dry out. They become less muddy, the ruts become more familiar to walk on. You find solid footing and are able to feel the sunshine. You begin to let others back into your life and can see a greater purpose beyond your pain. It still hurts and the grief can hurl you back into that space in a moment’s notice, but you no longer live down in the trenches. You live in the daylight. You recognize that space was not your forever home, even though it felt like it in the moment. You arise from the depth of the trenches of grief as a strong hope for others just arriving to that space.
It feels like a competition. We are supposed to be reaching for more.
More cars or campers or boats.
More time with the kids.
More time with our spouse.
And in that pursuit of more, we feel defeated. Everything is just right out of range. Just when we hit a new level, the goal post is moved. We can never fully grasp the more.
In this fight to gain more, we are losing what we have today. We are losing the moments of joy and heartbreak that are building the depth in us. We are forgetting that life is not supposed to be the perfection we are striving for.
My heart has a soft spot for the mess of life.
The house in complete disarray because it was filled with kids for the day.
The kitchen table scoffed with scratches and old paint because it is used for so much more than eating.
The souls who dare to be vulnerable enough to cry in front of strangers and let their laughter fill a room.
The buildings with chippy paint on the outside yet filled with banter and good conversation inside.
It is the imperfection that brings the depth to our lives. It is the imperfection that holds the memories. It is the imperfection that tells our story.
Sometimes it is so hard to be a parent.
You read all the books, absorbing all the wisdom, and they still won’t sleep through the night.
You hold their hand and teach them to use their words, and still they turn into biters with vampire-like refluxes every time they get upset at daycare.
You explain wants versus needs, yet they still end up flailing on the floor of Target because they “need” that toy.
You set boundaries and they push limits, breaking their arm jumping off a shed.
You teach them right and wrong and have consequences, and yet they still end up at the party and break curfew.
At every stage of raising these little people, we feel failure as parents. We wonder where we went wrong. We wonder how we ended up in this place. And in all this questioning and self-doubt, we forget that we are all human --- no matter what our age.
We all have good days and bad days, the moments where we feel like following the norm and the moments where we need to rebel. We all have moments where we succeed and moments where we fall short.
The times where I have felt like the best parent are not the times where my kid brought home straight A’s, scored the winning points, or was voted most popular. The times where I know I am doing these kids justice are the times when it feels the hardest.
… when my sister died and they snuggled up next to me asking the hard questions that I tried my best to answer.
... when they were hurt or sick and needed extra kisses and someone to brush their hair back and they came to me for comfort and the reminder that this too shall pass.
… when they see me upset and wrap me a quiet hug to comfort me.
… when they confess and apologize for something they have done wrong, before I even realize it occurred.
… when they show grace to each other, to their friends, and even to me for being less than.
… when they stand up and do the right thing, even when it is difficult.
… when they find refuge and shelter in another trusted adult, instead of me, because I have built the right village to raise them.
These times that feel the hardest are when I am most proud of the people they are becoming – people filled with depth and grace and empathy and courage; people that can have hard conversations, forgive and make their corner of the world a better place.
I’m not looking to raise perfection, I’m just looking to raise good people. None of us have this parenting thing perfected, the best we can do is keep moving forward with faith over fear.
There is something to be said for handmade, and my Great Grandma Anne encompassed everything, “handmade”. Growing up, each Wednesday, we would go to her house before piano lessons to visit and eat cereal cookies. The cookies amazed me as they always tasted delicious but never quite the same as last week. Come to find out she always used just “whatever was in the cupboard” to make them. This was my great-grandma, a loving woman with an uncanny ability to just pull bits and pieces together into something wonderful.
Some of my most cherished possessions are items that were handmade by her. She made my nigh-nigh (baby blanket) from scraps of my mom’s wedding dress - which she also helped sew. She gave me a beautiful gold necklace with the serenity prayer etched on the back for my confirmation, which I am certain was handed down as she rarely bought anything new. But it served its purpose so well, I wore it on my wedding day, long after she had passed. She also lovingly crocheted a blanket as a gift for both me and my sisters’ wedding days, several years before those days ever came about. Just thinking of the planning and love that went into those blankets still gives me goosebumps, as you see she passed away when I was a sophomore in high school, well before I was ready to get married.
Many years before I received that last blanket at my wedding, my sister and I received a quilt from Grandma Anne as a present. We were in elementary school and gave each other “the look” when we opened it. It was a typical patchwork quilt, with scraps of this and that, and neither of us were sure we wanted it on our bed. The material didn’t match and the seams were all over the place; but it was comfy and it got used anyway. Somehow it ended up at college with me and then my first apartment. I was wrapped up in it many nights while my husband was deployed and curled up with it often when nursing my babies. For years it was the go-to blanket for story time, blanket forts and when someone felt under the weather. Even though today there are rips and holes to go with the mismatched fabric and uneven seams, it is still wanted, needed and loved, because it is handmade.
Tucked into my bookcases at home, in between family photos, books and trinkets are more handmade creations. A wooden angel painted by much littler Aleigha, handprint art our family did together, pottery the kids brought home from school, a painting Angie did at my kitchen table, and even an old block of wood with the words “I love you and you love me too.” printed in black crayon by six-year-old Charley, have added to my collection over the years. Sprinkled in are the creations of artisans I have met over the years who have inspired me by their passion and grit and given me encouragement to keep going in my own art.
I want to walk into my house and see the memories made over a lifetime, not a perfectly staged room like a page from a magazine. For me this means piecing together the décor of my house, one memory at a time, always changing and always evolving to tell our family’s story.
Here at The Norway Center Store we value the handmade. We see the people behind the products. Behind each uneven seam or accidental fingerprint in the finish, we see the creator. We know the bravery it takes to release handmade products into the world. We see the hours upon hours it took to get to the place where the maker felt maybe good enough to try to sell these pieces. We see the artisans creating early in the morning and late at night, making time for their passion in between all of their to-dos. We see these people – our vendors – pouring their heart into each piece, one by one, just like my great grandma did, just like my kids do, and just like we do.
Each month we carefully curate our store, considering all the pieces our vendors have created and our theme of the month to bring you a new shopping experience each time you come in. We get excited when our vendors share their new creations with us, explaining how they finally mastered a new technique. We cheer with them when their pieces find their forever home during a show. And we are proud of them, when we can see the fruits of their labor pay off in providing more income for their family.
Each piece created by our vendors tells a story, sometimes it is about the history of a repurposed item or about the maker, sometimes it is about the nostalgia the piece sparks for the customer who takes it home, or the memory it will become when it is given as a gift. We are honored to share these meaningful creations with you to help you curate your home to tell your own story.
"And someday you will find that the Golden Thread was weaved in all along, lining your path with the pulse of His promises."
Artwork and quote by Jessy Paulson, Certified Painted Prayers Instructor
If you have been around here for more than a minute, you have heard us talk about God Things. You know ---- the people, places and events put directly on your path, pointing you towards God when you least expect it.
These God Things have been around forever, but our family had never given them a name until mom coined “God Things” during my sister, Angie’s fight with cancer. Every time Angie or our family needed something, God provided – but the provision didn’t look the way we expected. The fear and pain and heartbreak weren’t swept away like we hoped. Instead, He gave us the people to lean on and the nudges of reminders that he was there holding us tight -- everything from the songs on the radio, to the people we ran into at the store, to the Coke imprinted with Angie’s name from the vending machine.
This weekend we had the incredible, rare opportunity for a girls trip to a place we had never been before – Nevada. It was a total God Thing. You see, just over two years ago, we were planning our last family vacation with Angie. We had considered a variety of places and one that Ang threw out was Lake Tahoe. She had always wanted to visit, but as the cancer progressed, there were just too many variables to go that far away. She decided we would go elsewhere, but Tahoe has been in the back of our mind ever since.
This weekend we made it there. We got the amazing opportunity to visit a cousin that lives nearby --- the same cousin that works her tail off to create the amazing Faith Over Fear jewelry we carry at the store. The entire weekend was weaved with the golden thread throughout. We shared amazing dreamer’s sessions, brainstorming ways to spread the Faith Over Fear message, and we found inspiration in the most unlikely places. We cleared our heads while our feet splashed in the crystal-clear water of the lake. We met new people and were once again reminded just how small this great big world is. Every time we turned around there was another God Thing, a reminder that His provision is still leading us one step at a time.
Sometimes it looks like a coincidence. Some people call it fate or chance. But for us, we choose to call it a God Thing. You never know when God has placed you in a moment as provision for you, or for the person in front of you. Maybe He is working through you in ways you did not ever consider.
When my son was 4, he accidently kicked his leg through a pane of glass on a French door in our living room. Deep lacerations resulted in 14 stitches on his little preschooler leg. It has since healed well, but two strong scars remain.
Occasionally, he will comment on the scars being itchy or sensitive. He will ponder about what his leg looked like before or tell me the scars remind him to be more careful. His little boy mind does not even realize that he is stating the most perfect analogy of the scar of loss I have on my own heart.
Initially, when there is a loss, just like an injury, it jars us so completely that we do not feel the pain right away – we just feel shock. Our body and mind are just trying to grasp what occurred. Adrenaline kicks in. We are working to absorb what happened, while supporting those around us. We check off the items on the list to make arrangements and just generally are doing whatever it takes to get through the moment.
Once the shock and adrenaline subside, the searing pain swoops in. The extent of our injury, or loss, is realized and we feel pain, not just in the area hurt, but throughout the entire body. We do not understand how to put everything back together again. We do not foresee anything being normal ever again. The pain is fierce and overpowering.
Slowly the wound begins to heal. A scab starts to form over the injury, bruising occurs. From the outside, it appears it is getting worse instead of better, turning horrid colors of purples, greens and yellows, a constant ugly reminder of what occurred. For a long time, it seems that progress is slow and maybe even non-existent, for we do not realize the rebuilding and healing work that is being done on the inside. We are easily reinjured by unintentional bumps or secondary infections. It seems as though we will never regain our life and we will be stuck in this ugly pain forever.
Eventually, the bruises lighten and then fade away. The scabs crust over and we are left with a scar. We are slowly able to start doing the things we used to do. It appears we are healed. From the outside, it looks like all the work has been done. But while we are functioning once again, there is still this scar, a constant reminder of what we went through.
There are times we wear our scars proudly, proof of our strength and a reminder of what used to be.
There are times where the scar is too much to bear and we cover it; hoping if it is out of sight, it will be out of mind – at least for a moment.
There are times where we are embarrassed by our scars, expecting they should have faded away faster or that they should not be able to be reinjured.
There are times when we are annoyed by our scars as they get irritated and itchy. Something rubs it the wrong way and the pain and discomfort arise all over again.
There are times when our scars need extra protection, so they are not reinjured. We guard our scars to save ourselves from going through the pain all over again.
Over time, the scar of loss may lighten up and fade, but if you look closely, it is still present. The scar forever remains a part of us, a reminder of what was and how far we have come.
Your not alone.
Some days it feels impossible.
You think you have a hold on the grief. You refocus your thoughts. You have stocked responses for every situation. You push the feelings down to keep on with your day, to keep it together.
And then you are knocked off your feet by a smell....
a fleeting thought...
And in an instant it feels just as hard as the day they died. It all just feels impossible again.
You are not alone.
You will have days and moments like this for the rest of your life and that is ok. The grief is a part of you now, but it is not all of you.
Let it out. Be as mad or sad as you need to be. Yell at God if that is what you need to do. He can take it.
Find a safe way to release all the hurt out so it quits following you around every moment. Ask God the big questions. Talk to others who have walked down this path. Journal for yourself. Listen to music. Refocus your thoughts on gratitude. Pray for grace and understanding. FIGHT for your peace.
Despite all that has happened, God is still showing you the way. He has not abandoned you. Talk to Him. Look for the God Things He is placing in your life. God granted his ultimate promise of Heaven to your loved ones and ours. Don’t let the devil steal your peace.
Live in spite of the grief. Live your life with Faith Over Fear.
Hi! I'm Jessy, one of the co-owners of The Norway Center Store and co-authors of the book Faith Over Fear: Walking Angie Home. My husband Kyle and I live in an old general store, converted to residence, with our three kids, Ally, Charley and Rad and our German Shephard dog. You will usually find me with paint on my clothes creating my next repurposed piece.